Death toll at 8 in Midland-Odessa
Last updated 9/2/2019 at 8:17pm
The death toll in a west Texas mass shooting increased to eight Sunday, including the gunman, authorities said.
At least one of the shooting victims remained in life-threatening condition, authorities said.
Those killed ranged in age from 15 to 57 years old, Odessa, Texas, Police Chief Michael Gerke said Sunday.
Police identified the gunman as Seth Aaron Ator, 36, of Odessa. He was arrested in 2001 for criminal trespass and evading arrest, both misdemeanors, according to a CNN report.
No motive was given for the shootings.
Authorities said the gunman used an "AR-type weapon" in the rampage, according to The Associated Press.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who attended the news conference, listed other recent mass shootings in the state, including ones in downtown Dallas, Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe and El Paso.
"I have been to too many of these events," Abbott said.
"Too many Texans are in mourning. Too many Texans have lost their lives," Abbott said. "The status quo in Texas is unacceptable, and action is needed."
Abbott also read a text message that he said was sent to him Sunday morning by the mother of a 17-month-old girl injured in the shooting. The mother described how her daughter was still playful, despite her injuries, and that surgery was planned to remove shrapnel from her chest and to fix her mouth.
The tragedy began unfolding around 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The rampage, which lasted nearly two hours, left residents of the twin cities of Midland and Odessa reeling.
The shootings began with a traffic stop and ended in an exchange of gunfire with police in a movie theater parking lot. More than 20 people were shot in apparent random attacks.
Details on the victims have yet to be released. The wounded include three law enforcement officers, said Police Chief Gerke.
"Grab your loved ones. Pray for this town," said Russell Tippin, chief executive of the hospital where some of the victims were being treated.
"This is a scary incident," he added in an interview with a local television station.
The shootings mark what has become an especially deadly summer of gun violence across the country.
In July, three people were killed by a gunman at a festival in Gilroy, Calif., and on the day after the Aug. 3 mass shooting in El Paso, nine people were killed in Dayton, Ohio.
Saturday's shooting comes as Texans are still feeling shaken by the 22 killings in El Paso.
Democratic presidential hopeful and El Paso native Beto O'Rourke reacted to the shooting on Twitter, saying, "Our hearts are with Midland, Odessa, and everyone in West Texas who had to endure this again.... We need to end this epidemic."
"Our community is devastated," said Midland City Councilman John B. Love. "It's just really, really horrible."
Love, who supports gun rights, added that the country needed to have a conversation about mass shootings "because lives depend on it."
"Something has to be done," he said.
Residents of Midland and Odessa had been busy celebrating the start of Labor Day weekend. A nine-day country fair - the Permian Basin Fair and Exposition - opened Friday with pig races, a tractor pull and a Wild West show.
Less than 24 hours later, law enforcement officers were advising motorists to keep off the roads.
"Active Shooter! Please Share!" read a posting on the Facebook page for the Odessa Police Department.
At the time, there were unconfirmed reports of a second gunman, only adding to the chaos of the rapidly evolving shooting rampage, which began with a traffic stop. A trooper from the Department of Public Safety stopped the gunman's gold Honda between Midland and Odessa and was shot.
The shooter then drove west into Odessa, according to police, and began "shooting at random people."
Zindy Galindo was heading to Walmart that afternoon with her 3-year-old son when she was nearly cut off by an erratic driver who shot at the vehicle ahead of her.
Galindo heard the gunfire, not knowing at first what it was. Then she saw the back window of the vehicle in front of her shatter.
"At that point, I panicked," she said, "and called my husband."
She continued to Walmart, thinking it was a case of road rage, but when she saw people running through the parking lot, she knew it was more serious.
When the gold Honda passed by, the driver still shooting, she said, "I grabbed my son out of the car seat and hid on the floor of my SUV."
The gunman had apparently chosen 42nd Street in Odessa as his target. One of Odessa's main drags, 42nd Street had a number of retail businesses - Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Starbucks - crowded with Saturday shoppers.
Vehicles parked along the street were punctured with bullets. The 17-month-old girl was among the bystanders wounded in the attack.
Hit in the face with a bullet fragment, she was flown to Lubbock for treatment, according to a family friend, and was in stable condition Saturday night.
A restaurant worker described the chaos of people screaming and upending chairs as they tried to find cover.
Reporters at CBS 7, who were covering the shooting from their studios inside a shopping mall, were ordered to evacuate by police, who initially believed the shooter was nearby.
They continued to report remotely on the chaos of shoppers running through the mall until police determined the mall was clear.
The shooter fired indiscriminately along 42nd Street, and at some point abandoned his vehicle, hijacked a mail truck and continued firing.
An unidentified witness told the local television station that her letter carrier had been shot in the head during the theft of the vehicle.
Jorge Nieto was at his parents' home in Odessa, scrolling through Facebook, when he began seeing posts calling attention to an active shooter in his neighborhood.
Walking to the front of the house, he looked outside his window and saw a body lying on the street. He wasn't certain if it was the postal carrier or another victim.
"I didn't hear any gunshots," he said. "I was confused. I thought someone got in a fight."
Nieto also described seeing a mail truck nearby with police vehicles approaching.
"It's normal for us to see four or five cop cars in this part of town," he said.
The shooter was en route to a movie theater complex, where after colliding with a law enforcement vehicle in the parking lot he exchanged gunfire with police officers and died.
Movie patrons fled the theater and flooded the parking lot. Some took cover in an adjacent dirt field.
Video showed police approaching the stolen postal truck with their guns drawn and firing.
Officials declined to comment on whether the shooter was killed by police officers or took his own life.
A hospital had set up a staging area with grief counselors and social workers for support.
Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton said he had asked law enforcement and crime victim services to help residents recover.
"I am horrified to see such a senseless act terrorize the fine people of the Permian Basin," he said in a statement, adding his appreciation for the first responders who helped end "this evil attack."
As victims recover in hospitals from the shootings in El Paso and now, Odessa, the newly formed Texas Safety Commission has been meeting to consider next steps.
Times staff writers Ralph Vartabedian and Cindy Chang contributed to this report.